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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Spirituality - A conversation on "You know that you know nothing....because there is nothing to know"

Recently one of my best friends Ramanan and I got engrossed in a conversation which started with him posting the following quote :

"You know that you know nothing....because there is nothing to know"

It prompted me to respond to him and then followed a conversation which I believe some more of my friends may like to pitch in.  Opinions welcome:

  • Murali Venkatraman: I am sorry but I have come to conclude that such seemingly profound statements neither clarify nor add to any existing knowledge but simply confuse and hardly contribute to the progress of mankind.
  •  Jana Narayanan :   This is what is maya. have we ever tried to feel the profoundness of this truth? my dad used to say approach the question through the answer.there wont be confusion.the sages through their inner eyes have given the answer to the eternal quest for truth. we, if interested in it, should spend some time in contemplation of the answer to question route. or simply have faith in the saying and believe in it. it is an individual journey.
  • Ramanan Moorthy : ‎Murali respect your point of view. However, I must ask - what is this knowledge you talk about and what is really there to gain? Forget for a moment the discussions on self and self realization. On a very basic level the 2 most basic Q's for me fundamentally are: Where from did the power to the cosmos come about to BEGIN with? And the second one being WHY are we born? And a third one if I could add, is there a connection between us and the cosmos? If I cannot answer these questions definitively, any other discussions on knowledge and so called knowledge gain is irrelevant for me. You being a scientist, this might be unsettling and I fully respect that. Now getting to Bhagavan Ramana's teaching, he says "all knowledge is inside you, and when you realize that, you will see there was nothing to know". Intuitively I do believe we have nothing to know, and that we inherently know nothing....but that is my scientific rational explanation for that.... :) Chitti...Nalpa would have so much enjoyed this :)
  • Murali Venkatraman :Dear ‎Ramanan:   Right answers can be procured only if right questions are posed.
    First of all , the question "why are WE born ?" is from a human-centric mind that stems from the preconceived or assumed specialty of the human race in this universe. Of course, I do not debate the unique ability of the human mind to ask such questions and the fact that we are having this conversation is the very manifestation of that ability. What, however, I am pointing out is that, questions like "Why are elephants born or ants born ? " must be realized as no-less significant. This is because, we are just a tiny speck in a universe that spans billions of light-years. To consider ourselves to be extremely special would be either narcissism or a serious delusion or both.
    Science can tell you how multi-cellular organisms evolved from unicellulars and how unicellulars evolved from subatomic particles. While you may argue that science explains "how", and does not explain "why", I must point out that unless you have idea of "how" things have come into existence, you cannot investigate "why" they came into existence. Hence, to answer the (seemingly) bigger question "why", science keeps probing "how". When I say science, I mean the collective intellect and rational minds of human race, which with a child-like curiosity keeps exploring this universe further and deeper.
    However, as I said earlier, what is even more relevant is the possibility of the question "why we are born" being fundamentally wrong. Probability theory explains well why an incident could occur. Or rather it tells you what are the chances that an incident could occur. Now if there was a chance that the incident could happen in a finite period, it WILL occur (with that probability). There is no "greater knowledge" derived in asking the same question "why did it occur" (once it has occurred) when the theory had already taken great care to explain "why" it did already .
    By chance. Every human born here is also by the chance encounter of 1 in a billion sperms with the ovum. What chooses “that” particular sperm to fertilize the ovum ? Some conducive condition pertinent to that sperm at that instant of time. The rest are purged out. So the answer to the question “why was I born” is simply that you were the one who got lucky among the billion – by chance. The main problem with people is that they do NOT want to accept that some things can happen simply by chance.
    That is because it is a scary thought. For example, was there a finite probability that the apple that fell on Newton's head would have cracked his skull open rather than instigate questions about gravity and produce a great quanta of work on Physics ? YES ! there certainly was. But it did not. The immediate question of a “philosopher” is "why” ? Is there a “bigger” power which decided that Newton should be chosen one? No ! Because albeit finite, the probability of him dying by apple-crash-landing was extremely low. (That Newton was a devout Christian himself is besides the point).
    The reason people are scared about things happening by chance is that it introduces uncertainty in life. People love to live in a predictable world where the surprises are minimal (who wants /expects to be given a pink slip after profits of the company had tripled ? But there exists a finite probability). All this so called philosophizing, is an effort to finally find a single entity / law that people can attribute/blame every happening in the world for. One that governs it all. God. But unfortunately, the real natural world is built on the manifestations of things happening by chance and that too at various scales of lengths and time (which themselves are subsystems of the higher space-time, but that is a topic for another day).
    In a nutshell, the questions “how” and “why” are not different if put in the right context. However attributing a “reason” for a happening , which is other than physical, is only a figment of imagination. Thus it finally becomes a question of what is required – truth or comfort – what does the human mind seek ? Comfort will burn in the fire of truth. Hence, while truth may not be comforting, it is fully dependable and that’s what science tries to embrace.
    To me, the above statement “you know nothing since there is nothing to know” – reflects a defeatist’s/incurious mind. If there is nothing to know, why bother learning alphabets / communication and so many other advanced forms of knowledge ? Why work ? Why earn? But even ants work. Elephants learn. If one thinks there is nothing to know, he is in a comfortable veil of ignorance and self-deception which does NOT lead to a higher platform of “contemplation” but to the debilitating domain of inaction. He is the one who is in so called “maya”. Science on the other hand is that sincere method which attempts to understand the complexity of the universe different means so that it can establish truths or at least parts of them.
    And if you want to know the beginning of COSMOS, you should ideally read books on Astronomy and not Brahmanda PuraaNa. Or at least watch the documentary “Journey to the edge of the universe”.